Wrestling Women USA

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“As far as wrestling content goes, everything but the kitchen-sink.”

Another eclectic DVD package from the always-oddball Something Weird Video, this gathers together a whole range of stuff, from roller derby through pro wrestling to apartment catfighting, as well as the 1951 film Pin-Down Girl. It all adds up to 212 “sexy-but-savage” minutes of entertainment, by the time you’ve picked through a DVD menu that is about as far from intuitive as possible. So, let’s get ready to rumble…

It’s a shame there’s no date given for the six wrestling bouts – I’d say the 50’s, but that’s a guess. They seem tame by today’s standards, but, refreshingly, are also a million miles from the current T&A show. Indeed, given “accepted” behaviour at the time, these women are probably more transgressive. Commentary ranges from decent, albeit patronising (though the short When Girls Need a Man is worst of all), to bouts where the sound is post-dubbed and you get silly voices. Use the fast-forward button.

A pleasant surprise was the roller derby. Once I’d sussed out the scoring, I enjoyed a sport I’d heard of, but not seen, and I could appreciate why, at one time, only baseball and football had more spectators. Less amusing were Glamazon Living Room Rumble and several bouts of Amateur Outdoor Catfighting, clearly aimed at a different audience, shall we say.

From the director of Gun Girls, Pin-Down Girl has an optional commentary by cult icon Johnny Legend. It became a Mystery Science Theater 3000 victim, under its alternate title of Racket Girls, so it’d be foolish to expect Great Art. This, however, is bad in almost every conceivable way. The only decent bout is the Mortensen/Martinez one, though another scene suggests Martinez is the worst actress ever caught on celluloid (and against ‘Peaches’ Page, that’s some claim). Otherwise, women wrestling – and training – has never been so dull, and the ‘story’, about a bookie in debt to “Mr. Big”, is no great shakes either.

There’s no denying the quantity and variety of stuff here. However, is there anything I’d want to watch again? I suspect not much. The roller derby was about the only highlight, though Legend’s commentary on Pin-Down Girl is also definitely worth a listen – even if that means you have to suffer the movie once again… Definitely rent this DVD before you buy.

Dir: Various
Star: Clara Mortensen, Rita Martinez, Peaches Page, Mildred Burke, Mae Weston

Scorpion: Double Venom

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“Two helpings of trash for the price of one; but you get what you pay for…”

The DVD holds two films, Sasori: Joshuu 701-gô and Sasori: Korosu tenshi, only tangentially connected to Shunya Ito’s Sasori series (the best-known is Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41) – it also has a heroine who breaks out of jail, and that’s about it. Here, nurse Nami Matsushima (Komatsu) gets ten years for killing the guy who kidnapped and murdered her sister, though just before he dies, he reveals he had an accomplice. In jail, she faces the usual perils (thuggish cellmate, bisexual warden) and meets a girl on death row, framed for a murder committed by a politician – though she killed a prison guard too, so may deserve to die! As execution looms, Nami plans to save her friend. In part two, after her escape, she gets involved with a hitman, and goes back into the prison, in order to rescue his girlfriend.

While not avoiding nudity (it seems like a made-for-Japanese-cable film, complete with pauses for ads), these lack much of the sadism often seen in the WiP genre. Komatsu brings a fine earnestness to the role, but the films are barred from greatness by startlingly idiotic plotting. For example, judicial hanging causes death by a broken neck, not asphyxiation and, in any case, Nami’s resuscitation technique is bizarre beyond belief (the credits list a medical advisor – I plan to stay out of Japanese hospitals). While undeniably dumb, the opener is at least entertaining; the second film is largely just dull, save a final twist that really has to be seen to be beli…no, actually, you still won’t believe it. *** for the first part, ** for the second.

Dir: Ryouji Niimura
Star: Chiharu Komatsu, Tomoro Taguchi, Daisuke Ryuu, Aya Sasaki

Hell’s Highway

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“Hitch-hiking harlot from hell.”

Chris’s chicken parmigiana is legendary here for its narcotic effect: eat it, fall asleep, simple as that. It thus perhaps means more than it seems that Hell’s Highway kept me awake, post-parmigiana. Sure, it’s cheap (cost about $5K, shot on video); sure, it’s dumb – but to counter that chicken, a film must have something going for it. The setup is simple and effective: a carload of college teens, two male, two female, meet evil hitch-hiker Lucinda (Dollar). No matter what they do, she takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’, whether it’s wielding a firearm, chainsaw, or generally bad-ass attitude.

The gore is copiously energetic, if unconvincing; the main strength here is enthusiasm and self-awareness. For example, when debating whether to pick up Lucinda, one girl says that’s how horror movies start, but is over-ruled by a guy who points out it’s how porno movies start too – and lo, we get an amusing cameo by Ron Jeremy. Also check out the Chainsaw and Sergio Leone homages, though the latter is undermined by the producer not allowing a Morricone-esque score. Could do without the Blair Witch camcorder stuff, however.

Phoebe Dollar makes a fine impression as the unstoppable Lucinda, despite a final ‘explanation’ that should have been left on the beer-mat whence it came. The first scene after she gets in the car has a genuinely nasty edge – she fingers one of the girls at gunpoint – and it’s a shame this isn’t maintained. The rest of the cast is okay: these characters could get very annoying, yet only become moderately so. I correctly guessed their order of demise inside ten minutes, and was disappointed by their general longevity. But go in expecting as little as we did, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Dir: Jeff Leroy
Star: Phoebe Dollar, Kiren David, Hank Horner, Beverly Lynne

So Close

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“…and, yet, so far.”

For action alone, this is certainly worth a look, with some stunning and imaginative set-pieces. But the bits between are so badly-handled, I actually dozed off – twice – which is barely permissible in a drama, never mind an action movie. It’s a tale of two sisters, who form a team of assassins: big sis Lynn (Shu Qi, from The Transporter) does the deed, little sis Sue (Zhao) is hi-tech backup, using gadgetry handed down from their father. But the police, led by eccentric forensics expert Hung (Mok), are on the trail, so a client opts to tidy the loose ends by targeting all three women, forcing a partnership between cop and killers.

Unfortunately, as well as a bit of lesbian subtext between Hung and Sue, there’s a very poorly executed romance between Lynn and an old flame. Viewers should also know a cover of Carpenters’ ‘classic’ Close to You appears – repeatedly (once is amusing irony, twice is pushing it, and more than that…). These aspects suck the life from the film like a leech, though the fights remain sturdy enough, despite the presence of too much CGI glass [most obviously when Yuen repeats a stunt from Yes, Madam, which Michelle Yeoh did with real glass!] Overall, an ideal movie to watch on fast-forward, or with some other distraction to hand.

Dir: Corey Yuen
Star: Shu Qi, Zhao Wei, Karen Mok, Song Seoung-Heon

Alias: season two

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“The Family That Slays Together, Stays Together…”

I’ve literally sprinted through from the living-room, where the two-hour season finale has just finished, leaving an aching void in our Sunday evenings that will remain until the third season starts in the fall. It was hard to see how the second series could live up to the first but, with a few relatively minor misgivings, it’s safe to say that the show has.

alias2Would have to admit that the start was somewhat slow. It was hardly a surprise to discover that most of the characters who were “dead” at the end of the first series made a miraculous comeback in the second. It’s exactly the sort of thing you expect from shows like this, and you wonder why they even bother. Indeed, much of the first half of the series was too predictable, revolving around the can-or-can’t Sydney trust her mother dilemma. No prizes for guessing the right answer there either.

The recovery began when ABC handed Alias the coveted post-Superbowl slot (though once the score in the game reached 34-3, its impact on ratings for Alias became doubtful). Still, it proved a pivotal episode, giving Abrams a chance to reinvent the show, and introduce it to a whole new audience too lazy to change the channel (due to overconsumption of beer and nachos, probably). This was apparent in some rather clunky back-exposition, and also an opening which featured Sydney in two sets of lingerie – a shameless, gratuitous piece of shallow exploitation, clearly designed to appeal to nobody but the gridiron fans. :-) They probably mistook it for another Victoria’ Secret commercial…

Luckily, there was a lot of actual content, too: The CIA moved in to take SD-6 down, and from then on, no longer was Sydney struggling to maintain her secret lives. The show would become a quest for Sloane, trying to stop him before he…well, no-one was quite sure what he was up to, but it never seemed likely to involve puppies and flowers. This episode also marked the start of an increasing body-count with one character murdered and replaced by an evil doppelganger, while later on, two spouses would also bite the dust.

With the Rambaldi story making a welcome reappearance, the season picked up steam, helped by cool guest stars: Rutger Hauer, Danny Trejo & David Carradine (a Buddhist monk!) – we just needed Udo Kier and we’d have been in cult heaven. Apparently lost in the duplicitous double-crossing was the action element, a disappointing facet. For example, not until the last 10 minutes of the two-hour season finale did Sydney get in some serious butt-kicking; we wondered if this was connected with Garner’s apparent weight gain. Too much comfort ice-cream after her recent break-up? Perhaps; though if she’s pregnant, you heard it here first.

With so many threads too, the story arcs seemed disjointed: in some cases, you’d go for weeks without hearing anything, before an abrupt reappearance. However, a continuing strength was the development of the supporting cast, with Sloane switching from evil mastermind to sympathetic antihero, even within the course of a single episode. Dixon, too, enjoyed a spectacular character arc over the second half, going from committed SD-6 employee to a borderline psychopath, whose obsession with catching Sloane surpassed even Sydney’s.

Our favourite episode of the season had beloved uber-geek Marshall going on a mission to London with Sydney. It combined action, humour, drama and pathos to great effect, ending with one of the best cliffhangers the series has yet managed – admittedly, we speak as big Marshall fans, and look forward to the character receiving a spinoff series. Hey, if it can happen to a mopey vampire, anything’s possible.

Fortunately, the Vaughn/Bristow romantic angle that begin to lurk, iceberg-like, towards the end of season one, has been played subtly enough that we are mostly able to ignore it. More remarkably, the Will/Francie relationship managed to become a genuine plot thread, thanks to a startling twist which raised the hairs on the back of our necks every time they shared a scene. Let’s just say that Francie isn’t the woman she used to be. :-)

Despite ratings that generally remain disappointing – it ranked only 92nd in prime-time shows – Alias was still renewed, a decision for which ABC can only be commended. However, they still seem uncertain about how to promote the show. Here we are, two seasons down, still waiting for the first to arrive on DVD – they could learn a lot from Fox, which got a huge boost to the ratings for the second run of 24 from the first’s availability on disc. [By coincidence, both Alias Season 1, and 24 Season 2 are scheduled for DVD release on September 2nd, 2003]

So where do we go in Series 3? We still have the Rambaldi machine; assembly now complete, but expect further machinations as they piece together the instruction manual, and discover they need a 240/110V convertor. :-) It looked for a moment like we would be missing one major character (who finally Got The Point), but sounds like he’s okay. However, the main thread appears to be Sydney, and her efforts to recover from what could simply be the mother of all hangovers – I mean, I sometimes wondered how I got home, but at least I usually woke up on the same continent. Funnily enough, I suspect there might be rather more to her blackout than one too many Babychams. The truth probably lies somewhere between that, and abduction by aliens, but we’ll have to wait until autumn to find out.

Star: Jennifer Garner, Victor Garber, Michael Vartan, Ron Rifkin